San Francisco is the most iconic city on the West Coast. The streets, buildings, bridges, cable cars...everything about it screams icon. It brings millions of tourists a month to the city. Every one of them wanting to leave with images that depict the city in ways that bring back the good memories they had while there.
The Aperture Academy realizes this, and it's why we offer our Marin Headlands/San Francisco workshop. Not only is it a place where visitors from outside the area can come learn about photography and get images of these iconic locations, but locals can come as well and see places they see all the time in new and creative ways.
Instructors Stephen Oachs, Brian Rueb, Scott "Buttermilk" Davis, and intern David Richter met the class, including five returning students from the previous night's Night Owl workshop, at Baker Beach on Saturday afternoon for a full day of photography and fun. Although the weather called for sun, the city had decided that it would rather take on fog, and toy with everyone all day as to whether or not it would clear up...
Baker Beach was nice for the workshop, with clouds and fog intermingled between the towers, which created a bit more visual drama to the scene than is normally present at mid-day. Our instructors like to use this time during the workshop to really get to know the students, finding out about their different cameras, and what it is the students want to learn most during the day.
Returning students knew that this spot could get a bit wet, so they came prepared with water shoes, or in some cases, no shoes at all. All students tried to stay dry as best as they could...but many ended up willingly sacrificing their dry feet in order to get a nice shot of the bridge with the surf leading the eye through the composition.
Baker Beach is only a warm up stop on the course of our day, but from this first stop many students leave already having learned a great deal on how to improve their photography; clarification on shutter vs. aperture, ISO, composition, RAW vs. JPEG, etc. Our instructors spend a combined 400+ days in the field each year shooting and continuing to learn themselves, so they're more than happy to share their experiences and knowledge with students so they can shorten that learning curve with digital photography.
The next stop of the day was an extended exploration of Fort Point, located scenically underneath the mighty Golden Gate Bridge. At this stop in the workshop our class breaks up into smaller groups to allow instructors time to really work one-to-one with students, and show them a few of their favorite locations in the fort. Brick archways, old rooms full of powder barrels, hallways with endless doorways...all are just a few of the amazing spots in the fort. One of the best portions of the day for many is when the instructors, having given their groups the key teachings about the area, turn them loose to explore on their own. The instructors always look forward to seeing the images and compositions the students come up with on their own time. Even though we give the students a time to meet back, we're always left searching for a few that are so excited by the numerous photo ops inside that they lose track of time.
Once they were out front of the fort, some students began to photograph surfers who were taking advantage of a big swell...and others turned their cameras toward a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins that had come close to shore to allow the babies to feed in safety.
By this time of day, the weather had switched back to promising, and while everyone was feeling ready for a lunch break, we were all hoping that the weather would clear and give us a sunset...or at very least a nice nighttime view of the Golden Gate.
The lunch break in Sausalito is always nice. The food is good, and getting to know your classmates a bit more is great as well. Folks shared tales of their careers, or places they'd photographed recently, or were on their way to photograph. It was a perfect way to spend an hour before we headed out to the Marin Headlands for sunset.
Many Bay area natives don't ever make it over to the Marin Headlands, which is a shame because it provides a peace and seclusion to the city that makes you feel like you're somewhere entirely different than so close to a major metropolitan area. We choose to take our classes to Rodeo Beach for that reason...it feels like it could be anywhere. Lonely sea stacks rise from the sea and rugged surf batters the pristine sand.
On our way out to the beach, we passed a pink sheet with more than one occupant buried beneath it. The popular speculation was that if we waited nine months there would be three people under the sheet. The beauty of the city...even though you FEEL miles away, you're never more than a few feet from something odd.
While we had pondered whether or not to even go out to the sea stacks to photograph, because of the extreme fog that had come in, we went anyway...and the class was giddy. Photography is a hard subject, and waiting for perfect conditions all the time will leave you not only frustrated, but without many images. So we try not to wait, and we make the best possible use of any weather conditions (within safety considerations, of course). On this workshop, we wisely chose to go out...and the group focused on using the mood of the fog to enhance photography rather than hinder it. We switched our cameras into monochrome and worked on compositions that used moving surf lines and contrast to help bring attention to the lonely sea stacks in the distance. Difficult weather was turned into a great learning experience...again!
After almost an hour out there, Stephen made the call to go. And it was funny...the group that hadn't quite wanted to go out in the first place now wanted a few more waves to come in before they left. Everyone left the beach happy with what they learned.
For the first time ever during our Marin-San Francisco workshop, the Golden Gate Bridge was unable to be seen due to the extreme fog in the area. Rather than let our class go home without a night shot of a bridge, we braved downtown traffic on game night and went to the Bay Bridge...a standard of our Night Owl's class.
Not surprising, the class loved the spot, and got to work a bit on the same concepts they would have if we were looking at the Golden Gate. Students who had shot the bridge the previous night during the Night Owl class were happy to try a second time to improve upon composition and take advantage of a clarity in the air that was not there on Friday. Many of the return students got their favorite image of the weekend in that last location, which is a testament to the importance of giving locations more than one opportunity to photograph them. It was also proved the advantage of having two full days of instruction, both to help make sure all the concepts are imbedded in your brain, and to return after having ample time to practice. Our goal at the Aperture Academy is to LEARN, and the fun and great images are a bonus we hope to bring to every single one of our workshops...and even though it took an extra hour to get it, the class left with memory cards full of nice images, minds full of new concepts and information...and bodies happily tired from a fun day with the ApCad team.
Until next time,
Stephen, Brian, Scott, David, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.